According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 15 percent of Americans 18 or older needed treatment for substance abuse (now more appropriately called "substance use disorder") in 2020. The same report found that less than 10 percent of people who needed treatment for substance use disorder received it. The need for well-trained counselors who can diagnose, assess and treat addiction is greater than ever—for those who have never received treatment and for the millions of people who benefit from counseling services every day.
If you're thinking about a counseling career, read on to learn more about what addiction counselors do and how they help to make a difference in peoples' lives.
Addiction counselors, historically referred to as substance abuse counselors, provide expert care and support to people who struggle with a variety of mental health disorders. That usually means a dependence on drugs and alcohol. However, addiction counselors help people manage and overcome other types of addictions as well, such as gambling addiction.
Addiction presents different issues that vary from person to person, so counselors need to tailor their treatment plans to address a variety of needs. They meet regularly with patients to help them recover, and they may work intensely with people in crisis. Many addiction counselors also conduct couples and family therapy sessions, using peer discussion and social reinforcement to promote a healthy recovery process.
There are a few traits that make counselors particularly effective. For example, a counselor may need to establish trust with their patients or tell difficult truths. It's all part of building a healthy counselor-patient relationship.
Addiction affects the ability of people to work, go to school and enjoy healthy relationships with family and friends. It's a social problem that costs the country hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Tragically, hundreds of thousands of people also lose their lives each year due to drug and alcohol abuse.
There is no definitive cure for addiction. But there are evidence-based therapies that can help people manage the disease and live a happier, healthier life. For many people affected by addiction, addiction counselors are the vital link to recovery.
Trained substance abuse counselors are experts at understanding the underlying causes of addiction and helping patients learn coping strategies and recognize their unique triggers. Ongoing counseling also helps to prevent relapse or a reoccurrence of symptoms. For all of these reasons, the demand for highly qualified addiction counselors continues to grow.
Now is a great time to earn your master's and enter the field of addiction counseling. Jobs are expected to grow as more people seek help for addiction. This growth is in large part driven by a surging opioid crisis—a national emergency that's been building for more than 20 years according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Court-ordered therapy is also becoming more common, creating numerous counseling jobs in correctional facilities and halfway houses.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of substance abuse counselors is projected to grow 23 percent from 2020 to 2030. That's more than four times faster than the national average. As a licensed counselor with a master's degree, you can look forward to a strong job market and reliable employment.
It's a great idea to narrow down the type of career you hope to pursue. Here's a quick look at some of the professional pathways you might want to explore and the required degrees.
Careers that require a bachelor's degree:
Careers that require a master's degree:
Substance abuse careers: Doctoral degree
Depending on your professional goals, you may choose to pursue a PhD after earning your master's degree in counseling. Career opportunities for doctoral-level graduates include:
Addiction counselors work in a variety of professional settings, from community mental health centers to state and federal government agencies. As a licensed addiction and mental health counselor, you can also open your own private counseling practice.
Addiction counselors work in:
In January 2020, there were more than 14,000 specialized substance abuse treatment facilities in the United States providing counseling, behavioral therapy, medication, case management and other types of care.
Your path to becoming an addiction counselor will vary depending on the requirements of the state where you intend to practice. As a first step, it's a good idea to look up the licensure or certification requirements of your state and use this information to help plan your education.
In many states, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree to practice alcohol and drug counseling. Some states require a master’s. Even if your state doesn’t, earning a master's degree in addiction counseling will increase your job opportunities and grant you more clinical experience.
No career is more rewarding to those who are driven to help others.
Addiction and mental health counseling is an opportunity to change lives and strengthen communities. It's a chance to give back and make a positive difference in the world, one person at a time. When you see someone you've counseled who has made it to recovery and turned their lives around, the sense of fulfillment is truly incredible.
Addiction counselors enjoy more than a sense of personal satisfaction. U.S. News and World Report recently ranked substance abuse counselor as #3 in Best Social Services Jobs and #34 in 100 Best Jobs, based on criteria including median salary, unemployment rate, growth and future job prospects.
The Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies offers invaluable coursework and training that explores the study and treatment of substance use disorders, as well as mental health and co-occurring disorders. Work closely with full-time faculty, all of whom hold doctoral degrees and bring first-hand knowledge from years of clinical experience, research and teaching. Take classes full time or part time.
More than 99.5 percent of Hazelden Betty Ford graduates passed the licensing/certification examination when they took the test within six months of graduation,* and 92 percent found employment within six months of graduation.** Want to hear firsthand how the Graduate School helps its graduates? Read one of these alumni stories. [internal linking opportunity: alumni stories]
National Institute on Drug Abuse: www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics
U.S. Department of Labor Statistics: www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm
National Institute on Drug Abuse: www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states
U.S. News & World Report: https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/substance-abuse-counselor
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm